Two years ago this September, due to an afternoon programming snafu, Vic Ferrari was asked to fill an hour of television at last minute. Back then he was a junior coordinator at a public access television station. Instead of throwing on some rerun of the normal show (which broadcast popular music videos), Ferrari hastily slapped together his first episode of Video Chest. By the end of the hour, the phone was ringing off the hook with compliments and complaints. Over fifty times the regular viewing audience watched in awe as Ferrari’s little show shot him to cult hero status for some and madman-who-ought-to-be-fired-immediately to others.
Video Chest is a continuous close-up shot framing the chest of a girl jumping up and down and wearing a tight white shirt on which Ferrari projects a selection of music videos. The conflation is perfect. Sex bulges, distorts, and destabilizes cultural consumption. The body is the a priori ground for our vision, our understanding; it is the medium by which content materializes and yet the projected content tends to overwhelm and obfuscate the body underneath. Working with a range of body-types, different girls stand in as pogo-ing screens. The girls’ jumping (on some unseen trampoline) has been precisely slowed down so that their clothed breasts float and drop in mesmerizing slow motion. Though the bouncing is at a valium-tempo half pace, the videos projected are seen and heard at normal speed by the viewer. The projection remains centered in the frame while the body oscillates slowly underneath. The effect lulls the viewer into hypnotic reverie like some perverted psychologists’ dangling stopwatch.
The first video I saw was the Talking Heads’ “Burning Down The House.” Seeing David Byrne’s face projected on a street (in the video) then again projected on an undulating tight t-shirt melted levels of representation into each other. There is something exacting in the simplicity of the whole thing; as if this is what Edison intended for moving pictures all along. Watching Video Chest simulates drinking whiskey all day in a floating castle—or flicking on a trance switch deep inside the skull.
Video Chest premiered with Guided By Voices’ “Glad Girls” (full of dancing strippers and hopping pom-pom girls) and the debut of a specially commissioned home-made music video by Robert Pollard (Ferrari’s childhood friend from Dayton) for “Bad Football.” The program quickly gained an initial testosterone-rich audience of wired college kids, suburban would-be rockers getting loaded on High Life, and bored pubescent boys giggling nervously toward trial erections. Viewership has grown in the past year to gradually achieved a wider cult following first throughout Cleveland and, via the internet, throughout the world. At the same time, Ferrari evolved and broadened his video content beyond music videos and lengthened his program to two-hour segments. Veering off into even more experimental and less palatable terrain, he introduced chest-projections of films like Carl Dreyer’s “The Passion of Joan of Arc” and the Coen Brother’s “The Big Lebowski,” a compilation of TED talks about the end of the world and CSPAN coverage of Congressional hearings on tort reform that are profoundly more engrossing over bouncing breasts. Secreted between other clips, Ferrari (an art school drop out) has also been interjecting his favorite early video art including Dara Birnbaum’s “Technology/Transformation: Wonder Woman” (1979), William Wegman’s “Two Dogs and Ball” (c.1972), George Kuchar’s “Weather Diaries” (1986), and a more recent piece by Paul Farance of a girl slowly jumping on a trampoline. Video Chest has fast become an underground cultural institution educating nocturnal loners and curious homebodies, as well as constituting an impressive corpus of new video work.
Responding to the show’s popularity, Ferrari put on several live screenings at sticky-floored dive bars and empty parking lots and by some accounts he briefly toured as an opening act for avant-garde comedians Tim & Eric. As opposed to the hypnotic slow-motion rapture of the bodily screens in the TV show, videos are projected in the shorter live performance on a row of several girls in white leotards alternately standing still or spinning slowly in place. Like a strip show minus the nudity—more girl-next-door or American Apparel accessible and just as erotic (if you’re part of society’s soulful, sensitive minority)—it has a visceral and voyeuristic appeal all its own.
Video Chest is now syndicated beyond Cleveland. Check your local public access listings. In the Los Angeles area, it is rumored to be in the process of switching from a possible slot Telemundo to the late night schedule of Adult Swim (debuting in October with a screening of Tommy Wiseau’s cult fave “The Room”). Hopefully Ferrari will take his live show on the road again, and when he does you’ll find me in the front row.